Retired general medical practitioner and long-standing advocate of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Singapore, Dr Roy Tan, has filed a constitutional challenge of Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code.
The constitutional-era law criminalises acts of “gross indecency between men, with a penalty of up to two years imprisonment.
In a statement, Dr Tan said he has filed a case at the Singapore High Court to challenge the constitutionality of the law which he described as archaic and discriminatory.
“This anachronistic law adversely affects the lives of gay men. By institutionalising discrimination, it alienates them from having a sense of belonging and purposeful place in our society, and prevents them from taking pride in Singapore’s achievements,” said the 61-year-old who was one of the original organisers of the first PinkDot event in 2009.
“On a personal and professional level, I am extremely concerned about the mental and physical health aspects of retaining Section 377A. In my practice I regularly see how the law can adversely impact the mental health of LGBT people, who frequently present with depression, social isolation and even suicidal tendencies.”
Dr Tan is represented by human rights lawyer M Ravi, known for his involvement in numerous high-profile cases relating to the death penalty, freedom of expression, and LGBT rights.
According to a statement, Dr Tan explained that the legal challenge is based on two arguments. First, that there is an incongruity between the Public Prosecutor’s discretion on whether or not to prosecute someone under Section 377A and Section 14 of the Criminal Procedure Code which requires the police to unconditionally investigate all complaints made in relation to 377A, whether the acts occur in private or public.
Dr Tan argues in his case that this subjects gay men in Singapore to the potential distress of an investigation into private conduct where there is a legitimate expectation that they will not be prosecuted by the State.
The second argument is that the Court of Appeal has erred in finding that Section 377A is consistent with Article 12(1) which requires that a statute be founded on “intelligible differentia” and that “differentia bears rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute”.
In the simplest terms, Dr Tan argues that since Section 377A only covers acts between males when in fact “gross indecency” can occur between females as well as between males and females. Therefore, there is no “intelligible differentia” in Section 377A, making it inconsistent with Article 12(1).
On why he has decided to make this challenge now, Dr Tan said: “I feel that this is an opportune time for the courts to reconsider the constitutionality of Section 377A and contemplate striking it down in light of the developments around the world that have taken place since the last unsuccessful attempt in 2014.”
He highlighted how India recently struck down their version of 377A and how eight other countries have decriminalised same-sex relations, with Bhutan also in the process of doing so.
“I am eager to see this archaic law, which has no place in modern society, struck down,” said Dr Tan.